Ever since he started his undergraduate studies in Brazil, studying in the U.S.A. had been Lucas’s dream. He knew he needed to learn English, but studying the language in Brazil was not as effective as he wanted because he didn’t have the opportunity to practice outside of class. Enter Ciência Sem Fronteiras, a scholarship program sponsored by the Brazilian government to send students to the world’s best universities. He could choose the country where he wanted to study (he chose the U.S.A., of course), but they would choose a university for him. The program included six months of intensive English courses to get participants ready to start studies related to their field. That’s how he and seven other students from different areas of Brazil ended up at the Rice University Intensive English Program. In Lucas’s words, “We could not have been luckier.”
Lucas was the only student in the Ciência Sem Fronteiras group who was placed in level 3 of our six-level program. Everybody else started in levels 4 or 5. He worked so hard to excel in level 3, that his teachers recommended he be allowed to skip level 4. This is an exception very rarely made in our program, yet, Lucas was approved to move on to level 5. “I always remember this victory and take it as an example to myself whenever I think I am not capable of doing something.” According to Lucas, “Learning English was crucial to my academic and professional life and the best experience I have ever had in my life. Before starting at the Rice University Intensive English Program, I was not able to understand daily conversations, to speak, or write in English. After two months taking ESL classes, I noticed an unimaginable improvement of my skills. In the end, I became able to read texts thoroughly, to speak better, to write papers, and mainly to understand (which was the hardest part for me).”
The Intensive English Program also helped Lucas develop the skills he needed to succeed in the Rice University academic program. Since his undergraduate major, surveying and cartographic engineering, is very specific and not very common, “despite being very important and one of the most ancient areas of engineering”, it was not offered at Rice. He did take general engineering courses that complemented his curriculum well. He also took one advanced English course tailored to Brazilian students and one Spanish course. He was amazed at Rice University’s unique residential college system, where students are assigned a college where they live, dine and socialize for the duration of their studies. Speaking of socialization, while studying in Rice’s academic program, Lucas and one of his friends from the sponsored group founded the Brazilian Student Association (BRASA). The two founders went back to Brazil at the end of their year of academic studies, but BRASA is still very much alive and a very active group within Rice’s student organizations, with the purpose of spreading Brazilian culture to the university community.
Living in Houston certainly enhanced the whole experience for Lucas. He especially liked the fact that, because it is one of the most populated cities in the U.S. (4th largest), you can find anything here and there is so much to do, from outdoor fun to cultural activities, to sports events. Better yet, a lot of the events are free and open to the public. “You never get bored in a city like Houston!” Lucas found that Houstonians in general are kindhearted and humble. “Almost everyone I met was very kind and patient with non-native English speakers. They even encourage you by talking slowly and explaining anything you may not understand.” Lucas also enjoyed one of the things that certainly brings many people to Houston: its multiculturalism. Interacting with people from many different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs was one of the highlights of his experience here. “When you have contact with all this diversity, you become a better person for sure. Once you open your mind and learn about other cultures, you also learn how to be more tolerant.” Lucas would tell any student who is considering studying in the U.S. to do it if they have the opportunity. “You are going to learn much better and faster because you will need to use your skills all day, every day. Once you get there, take advantage of it. Make friends and hang out with them, practice as much as you can and do not be shy. I am sure you will improve your skills surprisingly quickly!”
Just last January, Lucas earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Surveying and Cartographic Engineering at the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV), in Brazil. He is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering, specializing in Spatial Information, also at UFV. At the same time, he’s taking courses and doing research in bathymetry and adjustment computations. In very simple terms, this means he is studying the topography of the floors of bodies of water, such as oceans, rivers or lakes. He would like to pursue a doctoral degree in Canada, where there are outstanding programs in his field of study. He eventually plans to become a professor in Brazil and sees himself learning a third language; more than likely, Spanish.
Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director